Respect: the ghost of Labour past

The victory of George Galloway as the Respect candidate in Bethnal Green and Bow has been seen by the left as a significant victory, and a new stage in building a radical movement in this country. This sense was reinforced when he went to the US and trounced the Senate investigations committee which had alleged he had personally profited from the Iraqi ‘oil for food’ programme. The sight of an MP belligerently attacking the US-British war on Iraq in the heart of the US monster was indeed heart-warming, but this one victory does not create a movement. Far from it: the sort of movement we need has to challenge rather than embrace the sham that is parliamentary politics. Robert Clough reports.

Those organisations that celebrated Galloway’s triumph also celebrated another electoral victory five years ago: that of Ken Livingstone as an independent in the London mayoral election in May 2000. Then the London Socialist Alliance supported Livingstone’s campaign, and pretended it had something to do with building a ‘socialist alternative to Blair and New Labour.’ FRFI was quite clear at the time that Livingstone’s aim was to secure a route back into the Labour Party; time has told who was right and who was wrong. Livingstone did nothing to promote socialism but toadied up to the City. By the end of 2003 he was back in the Labour Party ready to stand as its official candidate in 2004.

Although Respect has been presented as something new and different, in reality it does not represent anything other than another attempt by the left to build a parliamentary alternative. Gone are the days when the left would argue that Parliament is a sham, that it is not the locus for real working class politics. Now, at a time when power is more and more concentrated in the executive, and Parliament relegated to the position of an ever more irrelevant side-show, so the left seems to have redoubled its ambitions to join in the party. It is a betrayal of the anti-imperialist views of thousands of Muslims to be offered the illusion that one man in Parliament is worth a movement on the ground challenging rather than promoting parliamentary politics.

The election campaign itself revealed the disarray of much of the left. Tariq Ali called for a vote for the Lib Dems. Stop the War Campaign supporter Harold Pinter did likewise. George Monbiot presented a hierarchy of choices in an article in The Guardian, with the conclusion that he too thought it was possible to support the Lib Dems where there was no Green, Respect or anti-war Labour candidate standing. Socialist Worker could not go that far, but nonetheless told its readers to ‘vote Respect and for those clearly opposed to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Let’s punish Blair and all those New Labour MPs who meekly trailed after him into the lobby to vote for war and imperialism.’ The fact is that voting for an anti-war Labour MP would still be a vote to return a war-mongering imperialist Labour government, and a vote for the Lib Dems was equally to express support for a patently pro-imperialist party. Tony Benn was recruited to telephone wavering Labour Party supporters, whilst Ken Livingstone paraded through the East End alongside Oona King to drum up support against Galloway.

The question now is what will Galloway do? We have no doubt that he, as Livingstone did before him, will want to build a power base to enable his eventual return to the Labour Party. He certainly has not broken from it politically, choosing to describe Respect as the ‘ghost of Labour past’, and constantly invoked such spirits as George Lansbury, Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson. His nostalgia for ‘Real Labour’ enables him to ignore the real record of the party to which he retains a political allegiance. Just to remind ourselves ‘Real Labour’ or ‘Old Labour’ was responsible for the following achievements when in government between 1924 and 1979:

• It sanctioned the use of the RAF to bomb unarmed Kurdish villagers in 1925;
• It used the RAF once again in the brutal suppression of the Indian freedom struggle between 1929-31;
• It gave massive military support to Greek fascism in the war to destroy the democratic freedom movement between 1945 and 1947;
• It provided military aid to restore French rule in Vietnam in 1945-46 and Dutch rule in Indonesia during the same period;
• It saw no offence to its socialist principles in using head-hunters in a murderous war against Malayan freedom fighters in 1949-51;
• It gave slavish support for the US war against Vietnam from 1964-70 and to Zionist aggression against the Arab people in 1967;
• Under Tony Benn’s guidance, it approved RTZ’s illegal plunder of Namibian uranium in 1968 ;
• It continuously opposed UN sanctions against apartheid South Africa both in the 1960s and 1970s;
• In 1969 it sent troops into the north of Ireland to bolster the tottering Loyalist statelet, and then between 1975 and 1979 supervised a regime of torture and criminalisation directed against the nationalist minority;
• It supported the Shah of Iran right to the last days of his regime in 1979 because his regime was the biggest purchaser of British arms;
• In 1978 it sold Hawk jet fighters to the Indonesian Suharto dictatorship which were then used in the genocide of the people of East Timor.

Throughout its periods in government in the 1960s and 1970s it supported all forms of immigration controls. Whilst in opposition from 1979, ‘Real Labour’:

• Supported the Tories against the Irish hunger-strikers in 1981;
• In the same summer, it supported the racist police against the uprisings of black and white youth;
• The following year, it supported war against Argentina over the Malvinas;
• In 1984-85, it betrayed the struggle of the miners and helped destroy their communities;
• In 1990, tin pot generals such as Kaufman and Kinnock bayed for blood in the first war against Iraq.

As it is, Galloway has made a very ‘Real Labour’ announcement that ‘no-one serious is advocating the scrapping of immigration controls.’ What control is there over what he does in parliament? None whatsoever. He is beholden only to himself. Respect cannot disown him should he put one of his reactionary positions into practice, because without him, the organisation is absolutely nothing.

This is the tragedy. No movement has been created. There is no consistent anti-imperialist or anti-racist activity on the ground. All that we who marched against the war have ended up with is an MP whose political trajectory in the end will take him back into the Labour Party, presumably hoping to take us in tow with a whole lot of illusions as to the nature of ‘Real Labour’. If we are serious about challenging British imperialism, we have to build a movement out on the streets which has broken with Labour, whether ‘New’, ‘Old’ or ‘Real’ and which is therefore seriously against imperialism. Such a movement will need educating about the sham of bourgeois parliamentary politics, where a vote is worthless, where individual careers come before the needs of the working class, and where there is a fiction of power but none of the reality. Such a movement will not drag people back to the ballot box, but will create a new democracy, one where the needs of the mass of the working class can be expressed and then acted on.

Respect election results


Respect stood in 26 constituencies and polled nearly 70,000 votes in all. Nearly 70% of that total, 47,000 in all, came from five constituencies, four of them in the East End of London:
• George Galloway, 15,807 votes, 38.9% in Bethnal Green and Bow
• Abdul Mian, 8,171 votes, 20.7% in East Ham
• Oliur Rahman, 6,573 votes, 17.2% in Poplar and Canning Town
• Lindsey German, 6,039, 19.5% in West Ham
• Salma Yaqoob, 10,498, 27.5% in Birmingham Spark Brook and Small Heath.
Four candidates received more than 2,000 votes (Mohammad Naseem in Birmingham Perry Barr, 2,173; Yvonne Ridley, 2,720 in Leicester South, Michael Lavalette, 2,318 in Preston and Janet Alder, 2,014 in Tottenham), but their shares ranged from 5.4% to 6.8%. In 12 constituencies, Respect polled less than 2%; in two, Dorset South and Neath, it received fewer votes than the Legalise Cannabis Alliance, and in one, Plymouth Davenport, fewer than the Socialist Labour Party.

FRFI 185 June / July 2005

 

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